The cast and crew of the 24-Hour Play Festival after a performance. Derek Mejia / Daily Nexus

As the old theatrical adage goes, “the show must go on!” After an 18-month hiatus, indoor theater and performing arts are back at UC Santa Barbara. This past Saturday on Oct. 16, UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance put on the 24-Hour Play Festival, “a celebration of community and creation” that featured several short stage productions that were all “written, directed, and acted by UCSB students, faculty, and staff.” The event, which took place in front of a packed audience at the Studio Theater on campus, was organized by the university’s chapter of the AMPLIFY Initiative, a performing arts initiative whose mission is to magnify the voices of underrepresented and marginalized communities.

The theme of this year’s play festival, which was coordinated entirely through volunteer efforts, was “Fire and Smoke,” which was only revealed to participants the previous evening. Each team, which consisted of a writer, director and two actors, spent all of Saturday rehearsing, and by 7 p.m., the pieces were ready to be seen by an eager audience.  

Arriving at the Studio Theater, there was a considerable crowd slowly making its way into the venue. The festival began with a land acknowledgment to the native Chumash people, the Indigenous tribe that once inhabited the coastal area that is now Santa Barbara, and after this brief introduction, the lights dimmed and the first play commenced. 

The first play, written by UCSB BFA acting student Cyrus Roberts and directed by fourth-year communication and theater major Cecilia Zhang, was a gut-wrenching meditation on the loss of a beloved friend, the grief that follows and the enduring process of moving on. Both of the performers, student Brianna Mungo in the role of Sarah White as well as student Sara Kim Li in the role of the spirit who visits White during a seance, brought intensity and vulnerability to their characters. 

As soon as the lights went down, Mungo walked onto the stage and began to address the audience even before the chatter had died down. In her monologue, White reflected on the loss of her friend in a tragic accident 20 years prior. The set consisted of a few candles and a ring for the seance, which Mungo made out of salt on stage, and the only light in the entire theater came from the lit candles. One of the standout moments during the performance was when White launched into a sorrowful song in tribute to her departed friend when, halfway through the song, a series of loud thumps echoed from the walls surrounding the audience and a spine-tingling scream was unleashed into the darkness. 

The stirring performance made great use of the acting technique of “breaking the fourth wall”  between the performers and the audience. When the lights came back on, Kim Li’s spirit character emerged from the audience where they had been sitting up until then.  During an exchange between White and the spirit, Kim Li’s character was asked why they’re present, to which they responded, “Because I love shows,” much to the amusement of the crowd. 

The third production of the evening was a spectacle that had the audience roaring with excitement. Written by UCSB BFA acting student Frances Domingos and directed by fourth-year theater arts and English double major Grace Wilken, the play follows two students, brilliantly played by third-year Monica Granados Campa and third-year communication and acting double major Jonah Spitler, who become frustrated with the lack of diversity and inclusion within their respective academic departments at an unnamed university. Both characters emerged onto the stage in potent rage as they lamented the insensitivity of being token representatives for underrepresented groups. As the students entered their respective rooms, which had the most elaborate stage setup of the night by far, they suddenly launched into musical numbers, and what happened next was nothing short of spectacular. 

First, Spitler’s character broke into a solo dance routine choreographed to Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” as the audience excitedly joined in applauding the musical number. Next, Granados commenced their dance routine, soundtracked by Selena’s “Amor Prohibido,” and this number was met with similar applause and roars from the audience. Both characters then retreated to their respective beds as the stage gradually darkened, mimicking the passage of time from nighttime to the following morning. When Spitler and Granados woke up to realize that they missed their alarms, they frantically scrambled to get out of their rooms and head toward class. On their way, they bumped into each other and struck up a conversation about attending the same class. The production ended on a heartwarming note of the importance of community, a far cry from the isolation that plagued both characters at the start of the piece. 

UCSB Department of Theater and Dance’s 24-Hour Play Festival made for an engaging and entertaining evening of creative and inspiring performance pieces, with the productions showcasing the wealth of talent and artistry within our campus community. The festival will be back for the second run of its 2021-22 season in January, so be sure to mark your calendars! 

A version of this article appeared on p. 11 of the Oct. 21, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.